The Questions to Ask to Encourage Self-Evaluation.
The week between lessons can seem like an eternity, both to me and my students. In their busy, hectic lives, a 30 or 45 minute lesson with me is simply a blip in the rest of the week. Once a week is not enough. I simply can’t be there enough to make a real, significant difference all on my own.
Whew. That was a discouraging paragraph.
Yes, one lesson a week is not enough. That is why we have to train our students to teach themselves on the other 6 days of the week. Can you imagine how quickly a student would progress if they had a lesson every day? Their commitment and ability would skyrocket in an incredibly short amount of time! The good news is that it is possible for them to have 6-7 lessons a week (without them going bankrupt or you losing your mind with a full schedule.) They just have to learn how to teach themselves.
So, how do you teach your violin students to teach themselves?
My favorite method is to ask them questions. Lots and lots of questions. Questions that they have to think about before responding. Questions that they do not know how to answer (at first.) Some of your students will resist the questions, afraid of giving the wrong answer. With these students I have to be clear from the very start that I mostly just want them thoughtfully playing. The first couple lessons, I may give them a question to think about while they play and never ask them to give me the answer. Once they get used to it, I will make sure they know that I’m not going to get mad at them for the wrong answer, and then ask the question. This is all part of creating a culture of failure in your studio. Wrong answers are just as informative as correct answers!
This idea is especially valuable for my “spacey” students. Do you know the type? They are physically present, will occasionally give a grunt or a nod, but you’re never actually sure if they are listening to a word you say. These are the students that will play the same mistake over and over for weeks (and months!) on end. Asking them a question can knock them back to earth (and increase their engagement in the lesson/practice.)
Even young students can benefit from many of these questions as they practice with their home teachers (their parents.)
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask in lessons:
“Was that note (or shift) in tune? Was it too high or too low?” (This question is notorious for wrong answers with my students. If they give the wrong answer I say, “Hmm… I thought it was_______ Will you play it again? Let’s both listen a little closer and see if we can get the same answer.”)
“Wow, that was so much better that time!” or “That didn’t sound as good as the time before. What did you do differently? Does something feel different in your bow hand?” (or shoulder, or violin hand, etc.)
“What was your favorite thing about how you just played?”
“What was your least favorite thing about how you just played?”
“What mood do you think this section is? What can you do to bring that out?” (Good time to talk about phrasing and dynamics.)
“How do you think you played? Give me a score between 1 and 10. What can you change to make it a 10 performance?”
“Do you feel any part of your hand tightening up? Why do you think that’s happening?”
“Why do you think I keep asing you to do __________?”
“What kinds of things got in the way of practicing this week? What can you do to protect your practice time?”
“What do you sound like when you love your sound?”
“What do you admire when you listen to professional violinists?”
“What’s the best part of the bow to play____________?”
“What’s the difference between the first ending and the second ending?”
“Will you teach me how to play this part?”
“Will you teach me what a time signature is?”
“If you were a songwriter or a lyricist, what words would you put to this music?”
Play something 3 different ways: “What notes did I play out of tune?”
“What do you sound like when you play next to the bridge (or next to the fingerboard)?”
“How do you know if your bow is straight? How does it affect the sound?”
“Why do you think the composer wrote it this way instead of this way? How would you have written it?”
“What do you most enjoy about practicing? Why is it enjoyable?”
“What do you least enjoy practicing? Do you think you don’t like it because it’s boring or because it’s hard? How can we make it easier?”
“What story does this piece tell?”
“What’s the difference between my sound and your sound? What did you change to imitate my sound?”
“How does a low two feel different from a high two?” alternately “How does third position feel differently from second position?”
“What do you think you would have to do to blow my socks off at our next lesson?”
“What do you think you could have accomplished by our next lesson?”
“What’s your goal for the recital (month, summer, year)?”
“What are you going to do to remember to do this every time?”
I admit, I ask these questions as much for myself as for my violin students. While it is true that asking these questions helps them to be more attentive in lessons and in practicing, it also catches my attention as well. Sometimes, after a long day of teaching when I’m starting to feel brain dead, I’ll start asking questions to re-engage my brain in the lesson. The answers to these questions can tell me a lot about my students’ learning styles, source of motivation, strengths,and weaknesses. More than once, after weeks of nagging some concept or other, I’ll ask a question about why or how they do something and it will finally click for both of us. Asking questions also builds our student-teacher relationship. They know I’m interested in what’s going on in their brains, and not just molding them into a cookie-cutter violin student.
Do you ask your students questions during the lesson? What answers have surprised you? What do you think is the best way to teach your violin students to self-teach? Let us know in the comments!